Prostitution in Indianapolis

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Prostitution in Indianapolis

In Indianapolis, community input played a major role in the development of the Red Zone Program, which addresses prostitution in the city’s East District. Community prosecutor Michelle Waymire and administrator Diane Hannell, who were both originally assigned to the East District, launched the program in response to numerous complaints from both business leaders and community residents. “Prostitution was hurting businesses. [Their] employees couldn’t walk across the street without fear of being propositioned. The same was true for their customers,” Hannell said. “Indianapolis had the highest rate of syphilis in the country, so it was part of a significant health problem, too.”

Representatives of the District Attorney’s Office, police and community members sat down together to hammer out a response. “There was a recognition that many prostitutes do it because they have addictions, so we thought we had a better chance of having an impact if we focused on the customers,” Waymire said.

The resulting diversion program offers first-time offenders a chance to avoid a conviction by participating in a full Saturday of activities. 

Participants must first admit that they’ve patronized a prostitute. They are tested for syphilis and then spend a morning listening to a Health Department presentation about sexually transmitted diseases and participating in a neighborhood impact panel, in which area residents talk about the effects prostitution has on their community. “The panel is basically volunteers from the neighborhood who get to say things like, “Hey, I live here. My kids have to deal with it. You’re using our park where our kids play,’ ” said the Rev. Jay Height, who participated in the planning of the program. At the first impact panel, offenders also heard a woman describe how the arrest of her husband several years ago for patronizing a prostitute hurt her family.

District Attorney Carl Brizzi himself sometimes speaks to offenders. “I tell them it’s not a victimless crime.  The women are victims and the community is a victim, and they’ve violated the trust of their families, kids, girlfriends. I tell them this is an opportunity to get their lives together,” Brizzi said.

Waymire, Height and others who developed the Red Zone Program felt it was important that offenders “pay back” the community for the harm caused by their offending. Thus, in the afternoon, the offenders, wearing orange vests to identify them as program participants, pick up trash as part of clean-up crews. “We have them clean up major thoroughfares in our area, pick up garbage, and local community groups supervise,” Height said. Offenders also agree to stay outside a one-mile radius from where they were arrested, with waivers available for those who live, work or otherwise have a valid reason to be there. Offenders must avoid committing any additional criminal offense over the next two years or face the possibility of being re-charged in the prostitution case.

Police conduct regular stings to arrest offenders, and the prosecutor’s office usually sets aside one Saturday a month for the Red Zone Program with anywhere from six to 30 offenders participating on a given day. Participants frequently begin the day “arms crossed and grumbling,” Waymire said, but by the end of the day many express contrition. In a survey completed at the end of the day, one participant wrote:  “I’m glad I got caught. It kept me from a deviant lifestyle. The guilt and shame has been excruciating, yet beneficial. Thank you.”

In the East District, where the program began, 152 offenders participated over the course of the program’s first four years. The program has since expanded to the South and West police districts. While the Red Zone hasn’t eliminated prostitution, it does force hot spots to move—and the police stings to move with it. “The community loves it,” Waymire said. “Community members are seeing these offenders come back and do something to make their neighborhoods better.”  Prosecutors also invite the media to attend their Red Zone weekends to help get the word out about the program and hopefully prevent future offending.

Height said the program reflects the fact that the vast majority of people who solicit prostitutes are not from the area. The point of the program, he says, is two-fold—“to show them that it’s not a victimless crime and to discourage them from coming back here.” 

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